By John H. Foote
Amy Adams has been a frequent nominee for Best Actress yet has just as many times been a shocking omission – Enchanted (2007) and Arrival (2016) the most bizarre of the performances passed over. In the past it was often a challenge to find five female performances to nominate, though in the last 20 years there has been a bounty of great performances. So, as I did with Best Actor, here are a group of fine performances snubbed for Best Actresses when in fact they deserved to be there and, in some cases, win the damned Oscar.
2000 – GILLIAN ANDERSON IN THE HOUSE OF MIRTH – In a brilliant performance as Lily Bart, a woman brought down by the men and the society she lives within, Anderson was shockingly great in the film because her casting came out of left field. No one expected this level of brilliant from the actress best known for The X Files. Anderson was remarkable, staring down the very men who hold her down, wounding her in the hypocritical society, until she is doomed. A superb piece of acting that deserved to be celebrated and certainly deserved a nomination.
2001 – THORA BIRCH IN GHOST WORLD – As the cocky, snotty, sarcastic and wise young woman leaving high school and entering life, Birch was an absolute revelation with Scarlett Johansson as her best friend. The two do not fit in with their friends or peer group and indeed spend most of their time making fun of them or talking down to them. But they are restless, bored and cannot see where their future is going to lead them. Johansson is far more grounded in reality and starts her new life with an apartment they were supposed to share. Birch cannot find her way and ends up in an affair with an older man who falls in love with her, leaving her terrified to love him back. A superb performance that should have made the actress a star, instead she fled Hollywood.
2002 – MERYL STREEP IN THE HOURS – Streep was passed over rather by accident, when the studio forgot or overlooked submitting her name for consideration for Best Actress. The other actresses from the film, Julianne Moore and Nicole Kidman (who won) were nominees, and Streep deserved to be at least a nominee. Would her nomination have hurt Kidman’s chances? I doubt it because the Academy had declared Kidman “due” whatever that means. Streep was nominated in 2002, but for Best Supporting Actress for Adaptation, for which she deserved to win, but did not.
2003 – SCARLETT JOHANSSON IN LOST IN TRANSLATION – Bill Murray gives a career best performance as the on the decline movie star in Lost in Translation who meets someone who might be his soulmate in Japan while he is making a commercial. Newly married, drifting she is terrified she made a terrible mistake marrying a distracted photographer and when she encounters Bob (Murray) she realizes they connect far more than she does with her new husband. The two never sleep together nor have sex, but there is a powerful attraction and chemistry between them. During the silent goodbye that we do not hear I like to think he is telling her, “We are soulmates, you might be the love of my life. Find me in the States. I am yours.” No chance Murray gives the performance he did without Johansson giving the one she did.
2004 – NICOLE KIDMAN IN BIRTH – After winning her Oscar as Virginia Woolf in The Hours, Kidman was extraordinary in Birth as a young widow who believes she might have met her dead husband, alive in the body of a little boy. He knows things about her, about their marriage he could never know and the two begin a very strange relationship. Giving herself over to him, she believes him, no question, which challenges everything her family and new fiancé believe. They think the boy is a manipulative punk, but for what purpose? What is he to gain and who could be putting him up to it? The end is devastating as we witness what might be the truest of love, and deep self-sacrifice.
2005 – SARAH POLLEY IN THE SECRET LIFE OF WORDS – Canada’s national treasure Sarah Polley gave a luminous performance in this little seen film in which she portrays a deaf woman who has survived unspeakable horrors in Serbia, surviving to work in a factory where she keeps to herself, eats the exact same food each day and is never sick. Her vacation days build up until she is forced to take them, but rather than rest she goes to work as a nurse on an oil rig in the sea where a man has been badly burned and needs caring for. With him and only him she lets her guard down and tells her horrifying story because they have connected. Polley is magnificent in the film, leaving you stunned to silence with her breathtaking performance.
2006 – BEYONCE KNOWLES IN DREAMGIRLS – A major musical, how did the lead actress go without being nominated when she so richly deserved to be? Beyonce Knowles was superb in the film, surrounded by other great performances that might have stolen her thunder. Eddie Murphy was never better than he is here, and Jennifer Hudson exploded to fame as Effie winning the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. But not nominating Knowles was tragic because she dominated the film with a strong performance as a woman kept in the dark until she no longer is. A gifted actress, her snub was painful.
2007 – AMY ADAMS IN ENCHANTED – Watching Adams in Enchanted, she is quite literally a cartoon come to life, the slightly exaggerated movements, that lighter than air voice, her movements almost floating, it is an extraordinary achievement for this gifted actress. The film opens in animation but soon Adams as Giselle is plunged into real life in New York City looking for her one true love. This is a formidable performance from one of the most gifted young actresses at this time in American film. A shame they did not nominate her.
2008 – KATE WINSLET IN REVOLUTIONARY ROAD – Winslet won the Academy Award for The Reader (2008) in this year but clearly, she won for the wrong film, as The Reader is a much less of a performance, in fact more of a supporting one than a lead. It was, however, a film about the Holocaust, and the Academy does love that subject. In Revolutionary Road she is a fifties suburbs wife, mom, raging against having nothing to do with her degree (in theatre) and not expressing her art. She makes plans to move the entire family to Paris, and though it means uprooting the entire life they have built in fifties America, she is hellbent on going. They do not go; she is soon pregnant again and hates her life. Not just her life, but her husband, everything about him and the life they have. She attempts an abortion and bleeds out, dying. Winslet was astounding in this film, ordinary in The Reader.
2009 – EMILY BLUNT IN THE YOUNG VICTORIA – We know so much about Queen Victoria but so little about her as a girl, and young woman thrust into power as Queen. She was barely out of childhood when crowned Queen, and proceeded to learn and evolve as a person, becoming one of the greatest monarchs in the history of England. Blunt is marvelous, capturing the steely resolve of being a leader and merging it with the fact she was still a child, growing each day. She married for love, and they were deeply in love until the day he died, she never to marry again. It is a subtle performance, but brilliant in every way. The young actress was (sorry) royally robbed.
2010 – DIANE LANE IN SECRETARIAT – I like this movie very much and have always admired Lane. Here she is marvelous as the owner of the greatest racehorse to ever exist, the single person who truly believed in Secretariat, and permitted the great horse to become what he was destined to be. Lane was nominated for her role in Unfaithful (2002), but I think gave a stronger performance here as Penny Chenery, who seemed to connect so deeply with her horse they could almost, it was said, communicate. A wonderful performance and very fine film from Disney.
2011 – TILDA SWINTON IN WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN – Tilda Swinton is positively stunning in this dark, disturbing film about a mother dealing with the heinous crimes of her teenage son, their lives together shown in flashback. Troubled from the moment he could speak, Kevin has a contentious relationship with his mother, whom he torments with his actions, while smiling and always being cheery, even helpful with his father. When he is 17 he arms himself with his bow and arrow, kills his father and little sister, walks into the high school gym and starts unleashing death and mayhem with his bow. We see Swinton trying to put her shattered life back together after the crime, while learning everything that took place before. She is like a raw nerve throughout the film, deeply wounded, and at the end when she hugs her son fiercely, we wonder if she will ever come to see him again, and does he deserve her love? A brilliant performance, the finest of her career.
2012 – LESLIE MANN IN THIS IS 40 – Comedy so rarely gets nominated in the acting categories, so it is refreshing when it is. Leslie Mann, that daffy, beautiful red head is as zany as Lucille Ball in much of her work and was never greater than she was here. As she and her husband approach 40 they realize they are overextended with the bank, his business is failing, and she has a thief in hers. Their daughters are at war it seems all the time, and they are fighting far more than a couple in love should. Through it all Mann is the glue holding the couple and the film together with her luminous, lovely performance.
2013 – EMMA THOMPSON IN SAVING MR. BANKS – As the author of “Mary Poppins”, the greatest fear of the writer is that Disney will ruin the spirit and essence of her book. Travers (Thompson) guards her father’s legacy within the books fiercely, and fights Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) throughout the film as he begs her to trust him. When she finally does, watching her watch the film for the first time is breathtaking as she realizes the immense trust she placed in him, was warranted. A spiky, difficult character to like, Thompson manages to make us like her, and of course, trust her on this odd journey.
2014 – AMY ADAMS IN BIG EYES – Once again Adams is ignored, once again she was deserving, and it happens again before this article is finished. How come the Golden Globes get it right with her but the Academy never manages to do so? She is terrific here as the artist responsible for the famous big eyes paintings that were the rage in America, thought to be the work of her husband who happily took credit for her work. He does so until she has had enough and then finds it difficult to claim her own work. Adams carries the film. An outstanding performance in a small, little seen movie.
2015 – CHARLIZE THERON IN MAD MAX – FURY ROAD – In this rethinking of Mad Max, Charlize Theron gives a towering, seething and spectacular performance as Furiosa, a tough as nails heroine. Living in a post-apocalyptic world, she is given the task of driving through a hellish existence for gas and other supplies, taking with her a prisoner. Theron proves, brilliantly, she can handle giving a great physical performance, tackling the role with the same energy Stallone did with Rambo, the difference being she gives her character and the film, great heart. Ten nominations, six wins but no nomination for Best Actress? Again, shameful.
2016 – AMY ADAMS IN ARRIVAL – Though many thought Adams might finally and deservedly win her Best Actress aware for Arrival, as a linguist called in to break the language of an alien race landed on earth, she was not even nominated. Many hailed this as the best performance of the year, the finest of her career, but then, like me were stunned when she was not nominated. Bringing great intelligence to her performance as an intellect, a greater degree of heart and compassion, Adams is nothing short of spectacular in the part and, yes, deserved that nomination. Her gentle scenes with the strange creatures are oddly breathtaking, as she connects with them, all the while learning how to communicate with them. Brilliant.
2017 – JESSICA CHASTAIN IN MOLLY’S GAME – Chastain is among the finest actresses of her generation, commanding respect with each new role. Here as Molly, in this based on a true story film, she handles the biggest poker game in L.A., until she crosses a movie star (based on Tobey Maguire) and is run out of town. She goes to New York where she starts the biggest poker game in the city, running afoul of the mob eventually and paying dearly for it before the government slams down on her and freezes her millions and charges her with criminal offences. Chastain is tough as nails but hits a breaking point too in this film, which has the guts to show a strong female character become vulnerable before our eyes. Snubbed two years previous for Miss Sloane (2015), she again felt the sting of being on the outside looking in.
2018 – BROOKLYN PRINCE – THE FLORIDA PROJECT – Pint sized Brooklyn Prince was seven years old when she won the lead role in The Florida Project, giving a near miraculous performance as Moonie, a little girl living with her mother in a rundown hotel not far from the front gates of Disney World in Florida. Allowed to pretty much run wild, Moonie has a new adventure every day, watched over by the hotel manager, portrayed with watchful warmth by Willem Dafoe. What Moonie does not know, but we do, is that her life is going to be very difficult, in many ways she does not have a chance. Her mother turns tricks and steals to feed them and keep a roof over their heads, and when Child Services comes to take her, she runs. In an unforgettable scene this tough little girl falls to pieces in front of her friend, who takes her hand and takes them where they have dreamed of going. Not only should Prince have been nominated, she should have won the Academy Award. Gutless on the part of the voters to ignore this stunning little girl.
2019 – FLORENCE PUGH IN MIDSOMMAR – In this unsettling horror film, we move towards dread with a slow precision that throws the audience off balance. Shortly after the arrival of a group of young students at a summer festival, there are two deaths so shocking we are at once of the feeling we are in a different movie. The performance of Florence Pugh as the young girl being drawn into this strange community is central to the film, and she delivers a mesmerizing performance that haunts the viewer long after the film ends. The cult seems to be grooming her for something very special, and she gives herself over to it with every part of her being. By the end of the film her bright smile is one of absolute madness. A superb piece of acting.
2020 – ELISABETH MOSS IN THE INVISIBLE MAN – How long before Moss, one of the finest actresses of her generation, is finally in the Oscar race? She might have been there for her superb work in Her Smell, but her character was such a raging harpy, so intensely dislikable I understand (though disagree) how Oscar voters left her off the ballot. But for her incredible work in the remake of The Invisible Man, which updates and modernizes the classic story, she was brilliant. As the abused girlfriend of a gifted scientist, she escapes and he commits suicide, leaving her millions. But she gets the sense he is still around, even though she cannot see him. As her paranoia mounts and her fear escalates, she realizes he is indeed invisible and out to get her. Moss creates a woman on the edge of madness, teetering, without ever falling. Simply astonishing.
John H. Foote is a well-recognized Canadian film critic/historian who has been an active critic for 30 years. His deep love for the movies began at a very young age. He began his career as co-host of the popular TV show Reel to Real where he remained for nine years. While on TV he began dabbling in education, eventually ascending to Director of the Toronto Film School, where he also taught film history. After leaving the college to care for his wife, he returned to teaching at Humber College where he taught both Film History and Method Acting Theory. John has written two books: “Clint Eastwood – Evolution of a Filmmaker” and the upcoming “Spielberg – American Film Visionary”. He is currently working on two books, one about the films of the seventies and another on the films of Martin Scorsese. Through his career he has worked in TV, radio, print and the web. John has interviewed everyone in the industry (more than 300 interviews) except Jack Nicholson, he says sadly. Highlights include Martin Scorsese, Tom Cruise, Meryl Streep Robert Duvall, Jane Fonda, Francis Ford Coppola and Kathryn Bigelow.